Writer Bree Blaylock just wants a chance to catch her breath. Having finally escaped an abusive relationship, she’s relieved to have found a quiet place to finish writing her new book.
From the moment she arrives, she realizes that she’s not alone in her rented cottage on the lake. But she’s okay with that. In her experience, the living are always more dangerous than the dead.
Meeting handsome local lawman Jake Hanson wasn’t even remotely on her radar. Now that she has, maybe it’s time to take another chance on love.
In this teaser from MIDNIGHT COVE, Bree learns that she’s not the first to notice something paranormal in the cottage by the lake.
Glancing around, Bree saw that the island was larger than it looked from her place. The pair of oak trees were much larger and much older than she’d realized, and both were strewn with Spanish moss just like the oaks that lined her drive and dotted her front lawn. Scrubby low shrubs clustered here and there, but the rest of the ground was a mix of soil and sand, and Bree wondered if the summer traffic simply trampled any other vegetation that might have the temerity to spring up.
At the crest of the island, the ground leveled off. A half-dozen chairs similar to hers stood scattered around a giant stone fire ring, their owners opting to stand around in small groups for the time being. The large fire crackled and popped, its light augmenting the fading sunset.
Jake set his cooler beside two others, then returned to Bree, handing her the red chair. He set up his own blue chair, then placed hers beside it.
“Everybody, this is Bree. She’s renting old man Meyer’s cottage for a while. Bree, this is everybody.”
Conversations stopped and Bree felt every eye on her as waved shyly. “Hi, everyone.”
She was greeted with smiles and friendly welcomes, but she suddenly felt out of place. She wondered if it was too soon to ask Jake to take her back.
When she looked up, Jake was watching her, his bright blue eyes filled with understanding. “How about a drink?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yes, please.” Following him to the cooler, she handed him the corkscrew from her bag. Deftly he popped open the wine and poured some into a plastic cup. Then he replaced the wine in the cooler, pausing to grab a brown bottle of beer for himself before he closed the lid again.
Jake gently placed his hand on the small of her back. “Want to take a little tour of the island while it’s still light enough to see?”
“Sure,” she laughed, deciding that it couldn’t possibly take very long. The tiny spit of land was so small, it would be like taking a tour of a studio apartment. Still, wine in hand, she followed him away from the fire. A trio of dogs brushed past them with Murphy trailing along behind, tail wagging happily.
“He’s having a good time,” Jake observed.
Bree laughed softly. “He’ll sleep like a log tonight.”
They came to the water’s edge on the opposite side of the island. “Here on the west side,” Jake explained, “the water’s deeper. A few feet out, the bottom just drops off and in those reeds over there, you can catch some serious bass.” He glanced at Bree. “Do you like to fish?”
She shrugged slightly. “I like to hold the fishing rod. I don’t like to mess with bait, or heaven forbid, I catch something, I don’t want to have to take it off the hook.”
He laughed lightly, his eyes sparkling. “Fishing is kind of my therapy. I love to stand still and watch the water and just listen to the quiet.”
Imagining the peace he described, Bree sighed. “That does sound nice.”
Jake quirked a dark eyebrow. “You could come over sometime and give it a try. I promise, I’ll take care of all the messy parts. You can just hold the rod. Of course, you’d need a license. Wouldn’t want to get in trouble with the police.” He winked and she felt herself blush.
“Pro tip: Get the annual license. It’s $20. The license for a week is $25.”
“Uh! Why is that?”
He laughed. “Because tourists on vacation for the week don’t question it. They just go back home and show everyone photos of the lunkers they caught.”
“Wow!” Bree shook her head and sipped her wine.
“How long until you go back home?” he wondered softly.
Rolling her eyes slightly, she took a large swig of wine. “I’m renting the cabin until the middle of November, but I’m not going back.”
Brow knitted in the fading light, Jake watched her expectantly.
Bree huffled softly. “I came here from Clearwater, Florida, but I’m not going back there.” She shook her head dismissively. “Suffice it to say, it’s a bad situation. But I’m not sure where I’m going when I leave here. I write,” she shrugged, “so I can do it anywhere. I was thinking maybe I’d go to New York. My publisher is there, so…”
She trailed off and glanced up to find him watching her intently.
“I’m sorry about the bad situation.” His eyes radiated sincerity. “Would you like to sit?” he asked quietly.
Smiling gratefully, Bree nodded, and they made their way back around to the campfire, where clusters of people, beer in hand, stood talking together. A young couple stood near the fire roasting marshmallows.
Together, Bree and Jake sank into their camping chairs. “I suppose this crowd can be a little overwhelming,” Jake said quietly, “but they’re really nice. You’ll see.”
Bree sipped her wine and watched as people shared embraces like long-lost friends, chatting and laughing as they did.
The whine of outboard motors announced that another couple of boats had pulled up onto the beach. Bree recognized the cashier from the market among the new arrivals. Despite the cool fall evening, the young woman wore denim cut-offs so short, her ass cheeks hung out. In the thin white camisole she wore, her pronounced nipples attuned everyone to the fact that she was cold.
Immediately, she zeroed in on Jake. “Hey, there,” she drawled, eyes locked on his. “I’m glad you made it.”
“Hi, Darlene,” he answered, his tone friendly. Bree watched him carefully, but he didn’t seem impressed by Darlene’s obvious display. “You remember Bree from the other day.”
The woman flicked her gaze in Bree’s direction, her lips pressed together in contempt. “Oh, yeah, hi.”
“Hello.” Bree tried for friendly, but she felt her irritation rising. It was the second time she’d met this Darlene, and the second time the woman had both dismissed her and fawned all over Jake. It was sickening.
“There’s plenty of beer over there,” Jake nodded toward the collection of coolers. “Help yourself.”
“In the Publix bag, there’s everything you need for s’mores if you like,” Bree offered helpfully, smiling.
Darlene looked at Bree for a second then returned her attention to Jake. “I believe I will have a beer. Talk to you later.”
During the exchange with Darlene, another boat had arrived. Dragging their own chairs and a cooler, a ragtag assortment of people approached the others. Bree recognized the young woman from the bookstore.
Her smile was friendly. “Hey, how are you? I’m Whitley, from the Peacock. How’s the book?”
“Yes, I recognized you. I’m great, thanks, and I’m loving the book.”
Space around the fire was filling in, and Whitley slid her chair into a small gap at about Bree’s three o’clock. “It’s one of her best, if you ask me,” Whitley said. “How do you know Jake?”
Eyes wide, Bree looked to her left at Jake.
“We’re neighbors,” Jake said quickly. “Bree’s a writer. She’s renting old man Meyer’s place for a couple months.”
“Wait!” Whitley leaned forward in her chair and squinted in Bree’s direction. “You’re not Bree Blaylock, are you?”
Bree nodded. “I am, actually.”
“Holy shit!” Whitley squeaked. “Bree Blaylock! I should have recognized you the other day. I mean, your red hair should have given it away. Holy shit! I loved your book!”
Blushing, Bree glanced over to see Jake watching her. “Wow, thanks so much. I’m really glad you liked it.”
“No, seriously, Nothing Much, are you kidding me? It was life-changing. I read it three times.”
Aware that conversation around the fire had paused as Whitley gushed on and on, Bree felt herself blush even deeper. “That’s really nice of you to say.”
“Oh!” Whitley popped up out of her chair, waving her hands expressively. “We should do a book signing! My bosses are always looking for ways to get more customers in the door. A signing with Bree Blaylock! That would be amazing.”
Sheepishly, the young woman looked to Bree and sank back into her seat. “If you were interested in doing it, of course.”
Bree smiled warmly. “I’d be happy to do a book signing, if the owners of the store wanted to do it.”
Whitley grinned from ear to ear. “They’d love it. I’ll ask them as soon as they come back.”
“So, Bree Blaylock, what’s it like staying in a haunted house?” The disdainful drawl came from directly across the fire ring.
“Come on, Darlene,” Jake objected softly.
Darlene dismissed him with a wave of the Budweiser her hand. “We’ve all heard the stories. There’s a ghost in that cottage. How many summer renters have come running out of that place like a bat out of hell, never even bothering to look back?”
Determined not to let the woman get the best of her, Bree leaned back in her chair and smiled. “I’m very comfortable in Mr. Meyer’s house. It’s nice and quiet, and I’m able to get a lot of writing done.”
Eyes wide, Whitley leaned forward. “Have you seen a ghost?”
“Oh, come on,” Jake objected. “You two can’t be serious.”
“There are stories, Jake,” Rusty commented. “Years ago, they supposedly found a dead girl out here floating near the island. They say they never caught her killer.”
“Every summer, a handful of Meyer’s renters leave before their week is up,” someone else added. “They tell some weird stories.”
“That’s what it is,” Darlene purred, narrowing her eyes at Bree. “It’s the ghost of the murdered girl, looking for revenge on the one who killed her.”
Picturing Steven, Bree tried to suppress a smile. “Again, I’m very happy at the house. And by mid-November, I’ll be finished with my book and out of your hair.”
Determined, she held Darlene’s stare until the other girl finally dropped her gaze. Keeping her outward expression neutral, inside, Bree rejoiced. You’re being ridiculous, she chided herself. You just won a staring contest with a local grocery clerk.MIDNIGHT COVE by Pandora Spocks